Archive for Hades

New Story in Print

Posted in blogging, history, indie, Middle East, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi Fellow Indies,

 

Exciting news! My short story ‘The Littlest Fury’ is available in the summer edition of The Horror Zine,  in print, or Kindle. The story is about a Fury who is so bad at her job, she didn’t even make it into the myths. She doesn’t think she’s cut out for it, but when Hades threatens to fire her, and end her existence, she has to see if she can find a way to do her job without losing her own identity. The zine edition has a lot of terrific stories from a bunch of terrific authors, and the Horror Zine’s other editions are worth a read! Leave the lights on!

Like ‘The Littlest Fury’, it seems like identity has been a big theme lately, how people are defined by other people, how we define ourselves. I’ve been reading recently about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or rather between the Israeli government and Hamas. Since that is who is really perpetrating the conflict. It’s not the everyday people trying to earn a living and take care of their families on either side. I remember reading about a project a while back in which Israeli and Palestinian schoolkids became pen pals. The program was reported as successful for a while, until there were more hostilities, and they were forced to stop the program, even though the kids and their families wanted to keep communicating. So the potential is there. But who can say what will have to happen to make those voices louder than the angry ones? My heart goes out to all the people who are getting hurt in this. I hope it stops soon. I say that even though I know that’s inadequate to express what’s going on.

Thinking about that reminded me of another story I wrote that I wanted to share. It’s a fun piece, because I saw a bee get drunk on beer once. I had no idea they could do that. So this started out as a goofy ‘bee gets drunk’ spoof, and turned into something else. Stories sometimes do that, hijack the writer.

 

Beergarden

by Rachel Coles

Jocular people wandered down the cobbled streets of Munich past patchwork buildings that were a strange mix of modern structures, soot-stained medieval houses and new light-colored buildings in the style of the old buildings destroyed in WWII. The effect was like a honeycomb.

The slow crowd headed to the new Ellsen Brauhaus in the park by Ellsen Street. It was mostly open to the sky, shaded by trees and draped with colored waterproof fabrics for when the weather was inclement. Hundreds of light strings danced and swayed overhead in the slight June breeze. To the patrons eager for the rich Dunkles and light Helles beers, and the smoky sausages trickling fat, they might have stepped into faery, loaded with the only riches that really mattered to them: meat and beer.

It was the dinner hour and the early evening sky shone in pinks and golds as Eva Worker ventured to the profuse flower boxes in the new human gathering place to explore. She was a new forager, finally old enough to swim the tide of magnetic waves with the older bees, into the forests of flowers in every nook of the enormous human city.

Near the flower box she chose, on a table like a vast wooden plain were a few glasses partly filled with a rich honey-like liquid. And the scent from the glasses was unlike anything she had ever encountered.

Bruna Worker, a pushy bee who thought she knew everything because she was one summer older, had warned her as they left the hive, “Stay on task. Just find the pollen and nectar and come home. That’s your job, do you hear me? Stop waggling. You don’t do that until you have your load back here. And look out for the wasps!”

Boring Bruna, Eva had thought as she flew away. How can I not look around? Everything’s so bright: purpley yellows and golds and blues! But after entering the human-packed enclosure, she pictured the disapproving flick of Bruna’s antennae. She diligently began filling her pollen baskets before finally giving in to curiosity some time later.

Just a little break before the next flower, she thought. She flitted down to the rim of one of the glasses, leaned over and tasted a sticky, drying rivulet at the edge of the glass. The human’s strange nectar flooded her senses with warmth and sweetness and a strange acidic tang.

Before she could get another taste, a gaggle of salty-smelling humans approached with plates of long fat tube meat. Under the smoky scent of the meat, she smelled two females and two males. They were enormous, but the aroma of the meat was so overpowering that she almost failed to dodge the giant hand that swatted at her. She landed warily on a cooled sausage at an adjacent table.

An angry buzz and sharp wasp scent warned her she wasn’t alone, as a flash of violent yellow and black blazed toward her. A stinger swiped by her abdomen and powerful black mandibles clacked near her head. She weaved and dumped herself into the nearest flower box, stinger at the ready.

My meat tube, honey bee! Go back to your hive or you’ll be food for our larvae instead!” The yellow jacket called after her. Eva didn’t move from her defensive position.

A minute later, gnawing vibrations and the now-familiar smoky meaty scent wafted to her box, from where the yellow jacket fed, “Mmmm. Tasty meat tube. Maybe I’ll just save a little for myself.”

Eva’s wings trembled with fear. She exited the other side of the box as quietly as she could and started toward less hazardous pastures. So that was a wasp, she thought, her hairs still raised in alarm. She had been warned of the wasps from the time before she had grown wings. Her hive prepared for wasp attacks every season. This was the first time she had ever actually seen one.

Before she left, she noticed several workers from her hive sitting at the edge of some of the glasses of liquid. Every once in a while, the humans at the table waved them away, but the workers deftly dodged the waving hands and then returned to the glasses. The humans didn’t expend much effort to chase the bees away so it looked more like a dance where everyone was just playing a role. One human even took a drink of his liquid with a worker perched at the edge. And the worker drank from the glass right next to the human’s gaping mouth.

Wow, Eva thought, my sisters are brave.

That vision dominated her thoughts as she went pollen-gathering in a nearby woman’s garden. Instead of returning to the hive with her full baskets some time later, she chanced another pass by the human drinking place. She returned to the earlier site of her sisters’ brave foray into human interaction.

The humans and bees were still attempting to do their mutual swatting and flying dance, but the waves of the giant hands were barely flops now. And the workers weaved and teetered at the edges of the glasses as though they might fall in. One of them did. She plunked right into the liquid, and instead of fighting to climb out, she took a long drink from the fluid.

“Jurgen, you have a bee in your beer. And I think it’s drunk.” One of the human males told the other, who picked up his glass with Eva’s floating sister.

“Awww. Poor bee. She’s had too much to drink. Here, let’s dry you out.” He fished her out with a spoon and dumped her on the table, laughing. Hilda Worker, the swimmer, appeared to be laughing too, as she preened the liquid from her wings and legs.

“Hey, there’s pollen in my beer.” Jurgen exclaimed without very much concern.

His fellow clapped him on the shoulder, “Drink it, it’s good for you.”

Jurgen upended the glass into his mouth.

Eva drifted closer to make sure Hilda was all right. The other bees didn’t appear to be worried as they stared at Hilda in a stupor. What in the Hive is going on?, Eva thought.

“Eva, sister, come here! You must try this. It is wonderful. It is a new nectar and it comes in giant tanks. The humans drink great rivers of it and they don’t seem to mind us sharing.” Hilda’s mandibles clacked happily and her eyes seemed… muddled. Her pheromones also smelled of the sweet rich nectar.

“What is wrong with you? Why are you not taking your load to the hive?” These bees, like Eva, were all first season foragers, new to the outside world. Surely someone would notice the absence of a bunch of new foragers.

“We will. Come join us first, Sister Eva!” A chorus of striped behinds waggled at her. One of them waggled so enthusiastically that its owner also fell into the glass she had been perched on.

“Oh, another one down.” Jurgen Bee Saver smiled. In went the spoon to his friend’s drink. He dumped Sister Dagmar unceremoniously next to Hilda. As Dagmar consumed the liquid beaded on her legs, a larger black and yellow shape wobbled toward them in the air, from another table.

Eva zipped into the air, her stinger ready. But the yellow jacket that had chased her earlier, waved her off now with a wiggle of antennae and a surge of the same tangy scent that  drenched Eva’s fellow bees.

The intoxicated wasp landed uncertainly on the edge of the table, almost fell and then righted herself, turning back to Eva. “Ah, little bee, I’m sorry about earlier. You want some of my meat? It’s still all chunky but I could chew it for you.” She offered a partly-digested piece of meat . “You want?”

“No thank you.” Eva declined quietly and sank down to the surface of the table. She still eyed the wasp with caution. The humans shooed the couple of bees remaining on the glasses, downed the rest of the liquid and rose. They placed their steins next to a sea of other empty glasses on the table, and left. They had been there a while, it seemed. How long had her sisters been there?

The wasp nodded, “I am Worker Gertrude. Who are you, little bee? Come here. I will not eat you.”

Eva edged closer, and Gertrude hopped suddenly next to her. A wave of pheromone swept over Eva, as Gertrude nudged her in the side, “Hey, you are cute for a Honey Bee.”

Eva almost tumbled off the table again, and backed away, wings over legs. Bless the Queen! she thought, Non-queen wasps wanting to mate with female bees? My own sisters shirking their hive duties? It is summer. It’s too late for Hive Fever. The eagerness to get out of the long sleep of winter often drove workers to act a little strange. But this?

Her sisters waggled at Eva again. Gertrude twitched her antennae and stumbled towards the glasses. “Come! There is plenty of nectar to go around. We shall all share, yes?” Gertrude pressed.

Hilda and Dagmar scrambled up the sides of a couple of glasses and dumped themselves into the films of beer at the bottom. Eva finally followed the bewitching scent, picked a glass, and climbed in. Well, I did want to explore. And oh, Sweet Flower, does that taste good! She sucked up the beer and wallowed in the remaining drops, her pollen baskets soaked.

“And they are all different. There are different nectars. Can you smell that? Try this one, Eva!” Hilda tapped and bumped at her from the walls of one of the other glasses that had a pale golden wheaty smell. Eva slowly buzzed over, after dunking in two more glasses of the dark, rich, sap-colored nectar.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, the sky darkened and the twinkling lights became clearer overhead. None of them could drink another drop without popping.

Gertrude was first to pull herself from her glass. “Ai, I must return to the nest. I have meat for the young ones. And lots of this nectar. We had a good time, yes? I will do this again tomorrow! Maybe I see you here, little bees.” She flopped off the table, her wings beating erratically. She landed on the ground, and Eva crawled to the edge to see.

Gertrude lay on her side for a moment. Then she righted herself and slowly crept across the ground, narrowly missed by a huge pair of shoes. She called back, “I’m okay. Everything’s okay! Everything’s great!”

Eva followed Gertrude’s progress, holding her breath, until their new wasp friend disappeared into the bushes at the edge of the wall.

***

Eva didn’t have a good memory for how she, Hilda, and Dagmar finally made it back to the hive. And neither did they.

Mitzi Worker, their receiver bee, just buzzed in confusion and looked around her, trying to comprehend the waggling, bumping and weaving rears the girls were showing her as they accidentally bonked into each other.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this dance before,” Mitzi said, hesitant. “Um, can you do that again? I might be crazy but it looked like you just said ‘make a left at the dog’. Okay, there I’m definitely wrong. I’m pretty sure you’re not trying to tell me the flowers are burping.” She looked desperate.

Eva touched her gently on the leg.

Mitzi looked at her in panic. “I really did study. I just don’t understand. I haven’t been able to understand anyone coming in tonight.”

“It’s ok, sister. We’ll show you tomorrow.” Eva brushed the girl’s face with her antennae. “Be at peace, sister. Come with us tomorrow.”

“But I can’t, I mean I’m a receiver. I’m supposed to be here. Oh, let me get your pollen.” Mitzi collected the soggy nectar-soaked gloop from all of them and disappeared into the brood comb.

***

The next day, Eva crawled from the hive entrance wondering if her antennae were going to fall out. And it felt like some crude human boy was trying to pull her wings off, but there was no one to sting. She meandered aimlessly, gathering pollen from the numerous park flowers along the way to…somewhere. The colors were too bright and the ultraviolet felt like it would sear through her eyes. But the flower nectar along the way was nice and sweet.

Then she happened upon the human drinking place where she had been last night. Her sisters had somehow beat her there and they buzzed lazily around the profusion of flowers that lined the low wooden and brick walls.

Gertrude had made it back to her nest safely. Now, Eva saw with relief, the young wasp was feasting once again at a great piled platter of meat tubes five times as large as any yellow jacket nest. There was another wasp with her who occasionally pushed her out of the way of a human’s hand, as the enormous human male piled the meat even higher. The golden silk-haired male smiled and waved his huge hand at the other humans who stabbed and took the meat with long shiny, forked stingers.

Gertrude dived at one of the reaching hands, and her wasp friend knocked her to the side and herded her towards the table Eva had landed on nearby. Eva smelled, with a shock, that Gertrude’s friend was male.

“You’re going to get us squashed, Gertrude!” he exclaimed. “The humans will have their meat too. There is too much to carry it all back anyway.” He almost stopped in mid-air as he spied Eva. “There, Gertrude, there is your meat. Bees! They are less dangerous. No match for us!” He dived toward Eva before she could react.

But this time it was Gertrude who shoved at him, knocking the small male clear across the table and into a glass, to the exclamation of its owner. The woman stared at the doused wasp for a moment and then fished him out with her fork and flicked him on the ground and ignored him. Gertrude rushed to his side as he shook his sopping wings out.

She exclaimed, jerking her antennae at Eva, “No Klaus, you old drone! Not these bees. They are my friends. We shared human nectar together.”

As Klaus edged out of the way of passing shoes, and began climbing the rough wooden table leg, Gertrude flew back up and explained, “His mating time is almost passed and he has not found a queen yet. He’s cranky. So I brought him here to taste of the human nectar. That will put fire in his abdomen!”

Klaus clacked his mandibles at Gertrude, and a wave of irritated hormones nearly knocked Eva sideways.

Hilda and Dagmar settled next to Eva. They had Mitzi in tow. Her eyes roamed the first scenery she had ever seen or smelled outside the hive. The diminutive bee wobbled a little on landing. All her sisters already smelled faintly of the nectar. So did Gertrude, Eva realized.

It did smell tantalizing. Even crotchety old Klaus seemed intent on preening every last drop from his legs, body, and then from the table. Finally he hopped back onto the rim of the glass he’d been dunked into, while its owner talked with other humans.

“Excuse me, fraulein,” he slid down into the liquid.

Eva shivered in a bee shrug and selected a glass of amber nectar she hadn’t tried yesterday.

As the day wore on, and she peered around and smelled, she realized that many new members of the hive wobbled among the glasses in this human place. And quite a few wasps from Gertrude and Klaus’ nest too. The humans half-heartedly waved their hands around to dispel the bees, but mostly watched them wade in the cups, amused.

Some time and several glasses later, Klaus snuck up and buzzed in Eva’s ear. “You are looking very royal tonight, Fraulein Bee!” His old wasp pheromones washed over Eva again like a magnetic wave.

She hopped away, since she could no longer fly straight. “Agh, you’re a wasp! I’m not your type, Herr Klaus, please.”

He tottered after her on the table for a step or two, and then tangled up his legs and fell onto his mandibles. He gazed at her and wiggled his rear at her longingly with his nectar-goggled eyes. Eva passed the rest of the evening crowding close to Gertrude, who probably wasn’t much of a safer choice.

***

A couple weeks later, the bees, wasps, and humans were still communing in the beer garden. And before leaving the hive one morning, Eva noticed the odd lumpy shape of the new combs they were building. It looked as though a human child had tried building combs out of chewed up gum.

One of the larvae that had been deposited into an odd-shaped cell wiggled and gave her a skeptical scent, “Who built this, and what were they thinking?” And then there was a musky frustrated scent, “I think I’m stuck.”

As Eva was leaving the hive, Mitzi, who had been tasked with re-paving the hive entrance with propolis, had stuck herself in the goo to the wall instead. She wiggled her legs, dangling and laughing, “Hey, look! No legs!”

Eva sighed and pulled her down as the sticky gel congealed on the girl’s abdomen. “You could have suffocated yourself! No more human nectar for you!” She pointed to Mitzi’s air holes almost blocked by the glop covering the rest of her belly.

On her way to the human drinking place, Eva passed Klaus and Gertrude, who were muttering to each other.

“The nest looks like the wasps working on it were missing their brains,” Klaus complained.

“So they’re a little different.”

“Different? They’re upside down! In my day, we never built them like that!”

“In your day, they were trapped in rock, Herr Klaus!”

“I tell you, this nectar isn’t a good idea anymore.”

***

The bee queen had the same notion. That night a decree went out from Eva’s Queen that the human drinking place was off limits for nectar collection. All of the workers buzzed in disappointment. Eva wasn’t surprised.

They resumed their pollen collection and resorted to flying farther to other patches of flowers in the park. As Eva snuck a peek into the human nectar park once, it looked like a similar decree had gone out among the wasps. There was not a single one in sight.

Eva came across another drinking park a couple times, farther into old Munich, and spied some of her sisters there. A few days later, when their combs and honey started smelling of the human nectar again, the decree went out that there was to be no collection of human nectar anywhere.

The day after the new decree, Eva and her sisters moped to the boring flower gardens and sill boxes around the rest of the city. There was much to do to prepare the cells for winter.

***

One overcast day, as fall approached and the air had a hint of crispness, the yellow jackets came from everywhere. Bullet shapes rained from the sky around the Langstroth box in which Eva’s hive was nestled.

Every season, the hive drilled and prepared for this predator attack. This was the first time Eva and her sisters had actually witnessed it.

Eva thought, Things should have been different this season! What about Gertrude?

In their confusion, the bees took a precious few moments to realize what was going on before the acrid alarm scent blasted through the hive. Eva swarmed out of the hive entrance and encircled the nearest dive-bombing wasp, with her fellow workers, in a vibrating ball of bees. The temperature in the bee sphere rose to deadly levels for the frantic wasp.

Eva shook with fear and anger. How dare those wasps? I thought Gertrude was so nice, once she stopped trying to kill me!

That thought just made Eva angrier. She beat wind from her wings so hard the whole yellow jacket nest would feel the blast, she decided. The panicked wasp at the center of the ball bounced off the bees around her, and lunged with her stinger. A couple of bees dropped, but the vibration and heat was so great that the wasp just weaved and rattled helplessly.

You can just cook, you lying flesh-eater! Eva thought.

The wasp convulsed and sunk to the ground. The ball of angry bees dissipated and swarmed another wasp target. As a few of Eva’s sisters dropped from wasp bites and stings around her, she blasted a nose-ful of defiance, and dived for the wasps with abandon.

Vibrating bee balls surrounded several of the wasps, as the fight escalated. The air was a sea of sparkling wings and the deep humming drone of battle. As Eva hesitated in awe, a wasp landed on her back and slammed her down in the air.

But as the great mandibles loomed around her head, another missile hit the wasp and tumbled them into the nearby tree trunk. “I saaaaave yoooou, mein little beeeeeee!”

Gertrude! Eva realized, with a jolt of surprise.

“Surround me, quickly! We must talk! So the nest does not see!” Gertrude flew at her as though she would sting. A ball of workers swarmed Gertrude, but Eva fought to the center, to meet Gertrude.

“Don’t kill her, she’s not an enemy! She helped me!. She’s just faking so her nest sisters don’t see!” Eva scented to the others.

Hilda, Dagmar, Bruna and a few others started looking at each other and faltering.

“No, don’t stop or the other wasps will know,” Eva continued. “Gertrude, talk quickly.”

Gertrude wiggled uncomfortably in the heat but didn’t try to sting anyone. “I am a Loyal Worker. My queen is Mother. But we do not need to hunt you. I will convince my Queen to let us all go back to the human drinking place. There is plenty of meat and nectar there. She became angry that the nest was growing lopsided. She said nectar was making us sloppy and lazy.”

“Do you think it will work?” Dagmar asked, her buzz almost lost in the violent vibration.

“I think so. I don’t know. I will try. Ok, I go now. Too hot.”

The bees dropped away from a dizzy Gertrude, just as a broom pummeled down towards her from a giant angry human.

“Get away from my hive, you wasps! Agh!”

Eva dove at the net-covered man waving the broom, and signaled her sisters to swarm him and help Gertrude escape. They dodged the flailing human and kept him distracted. Gertrude buzzed away erratically, still dipping from the disorientation of the ball, and almost flew into a tree.

***

Eva refused to go for pollen until every bee in the hive repeated her waggle dance that told what Gertrude, Friend to Bees, had done for them.

She waggled for two days, while Bruna clacked at her to get to work. Hilda, the best waggler, picked up the dance and soon the hive was full of bumping behinds. Every time two bees met outside the hive, they did the dance. Finally, at the end of the third day, the decree came from the Queen that the human drinking place was back on the list of approved nectar-gathering sectors.

That very afternoon, Eva drifted into the flowered human enclosure that smelled of salt, smoke, flowers and at least four different varieties of everyone’s favorite human nectar. The twinkling lights swayed overhead in the breeze, as Gertrude and Klaus perched on a child’s meat tube. They argued about which of the nectars were making them build their cells more lopsided, and which were sweeter. Then they jumped, and flew over to Eva as the human child extended a pudgy thumb to poke them.

All around Eva, bees and yellow jackets feasted and drank together, occasionally calling for a new companion to pull them out of a glass.

The End

I hope you got a kick out of the story! If you have any funny animal stories you want to share, please feel free to post a link!

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Undead Bucket List

Posted in book reviews, horror, indie, indie authors, mythology, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi fellow indies,

 

It’s been a while. It’s been an interesting eventful year so far. Rosa, my daughter was recruited to a major wu-shu (kung fu and gymnastics) team. We’ll see if it’s for real! I don’t know where that kid gets her flexibility. Not from me. Could be from her dad’s side, but if it isn’t, I’m glad the mystery DNA exerted itself. I whack my own head on the door of my car, getting in.

In addition to Rosa’s new hobby, I was sucked into the latest Harry Dresden novel, Skin Game. I think the laws of physics have indicated that time is relative. Well, I think that theory is correct. It speeds up once your child turns 8, once the clock reaches 5 o’clock on Friday, and once your turn 40. And also when you are reading a page-turner when you are supposed to be doing other things, like sleeping to go to work in the morning. Butcher really captured the dynamics of …let’s just say many different parenting styles. His portrayal of the Underworld was epically vivid, and his portrayal of Hades was perfect, in my opinion. The way, I always would have imagined him. Solemn, dangerous, powerful, matter-of-fact, not all that interested in ingratiating himself with anyone, but fair, basically the last chance for justice some people would ever get. And Mab is her usual bitchy bucket of awesome. But now I have to wait for the next book…:(

Speaking of kids, I think every parent wonders what the limits are of what they can do for their kids. What about when we’re technically not around anymore? Can people become guardian spirits for people they love? This next story meanders into the realm of the dead.

Undead Bucket List
By Rachel Coles

Jerrod watched as the doctors, nurses, and assistants swarmed around his body, inserting lines, pushing various liquids, and checking various bodily signs. They were all saying the same thing. He was dead. For the moment, everything seemed surreal and dreamlike, and he didn’t feel much of anything. So he just kept watching.

He heard the nice young red-haired doctor that he’d fantasized about yell, “Clear!” and jolt his body with the AED paddles. With nothing else to do, he perched himself on a wheeled table nearby and tried to stay out of the way, until the frenzy subsided.
The steady tone of the monitor continued, and Red-haired Doctor frowned and after a few more tries, put the paddles away. She put her hand on Jerrod’s neck, at his non-existent pulse. “Time of death, Oh-one-hundred hours. This sucks, he was one of my favorite patients.”

“He was a horny bugger.” A dark-haired nurse with an olive complexion snorted.

“Yeah, but he was a cheerful horny bugger. All the way to the end. You gotta appreciate persistence.”

Most of the staff who were cleaning up the equipment nodded, or shook their heads and crooked a half-smile before they dispersed.

Red and the nurse who had called him a bugger stayed for another minute and gazed at his body, after paging the pathologist in the morgue.

“He was stubborn. If anyone could have beat that cancer with the treatment, I thought it would have been him. He was too much of a pain in the ass to die.” The dark haired woman put her hand on Jerrod’s foot and gave it a squeeze.

“I know. But it was experimental. We don’t even know if he got that treatment or if he was on the traditional meds. It was a double-blind study. I guess we’ll find out soon. Not that it matters now.”

Jerrod hopped down from the table, a move that would have had him panting and sagging to his knees a month earlier. He stuck his chin out over their shoulders and looked between them from one to the other.

He wondered if they would be able to hear him in the death-dream. “Can I get something to eat? I’m starving. Even that nasty cream of wheat you got here would be nice. A beer would be even better.” Neither of them twitched at his presence.

“He used to tell me he’d marry me, once he got out of here because he loved hummus. I told him, ‘I’m Punjabi, not middle-eastern.’ And so he’d say, ‘That’s okay, you can make me curry instead. I need some spice in my life!’ And then he’d make a kissey-face at me.”

“That has never been more true than now, doll,” he grinned.

The red-haired doctor broke into a horse-whinny laugh, accompanied by a sudden burst of laughter from the Punjabi nurse.

“I’ll have to inform his family,” the doctor said. “This is going to be a crappy morning.” Then they both grew silent, nodded at him, and returned to their shifts.

He stood alone, staring at the body that had plagued him with infirmity for the past few years. He reached out and touched his own foot as it lay motionless on the table. His hand went through it. The foot looked real enough though, as though the man on the table that was supposed to be him would start wiggling it. He didn’t. He looked asleep. Is that what I look like when I’m asleep?

But there was an emptiness to the cast of the face, like no one was home. The body was just an object. He realized in that moment, somehow, that it wasn’t a dream. The body was his body, or had been. And he was not going to wake up from this.
He sat down again on the table. The shock and grief never came though. He had regrets of course. Who didn’t? Having more sex, eating more ice cream, telling his incompetent manager to fuck off. But there hadn’t been anything he could do about those things when he was alive, so now, at least he didn’t have to sit in a slowly collapsing body, like sitting in a house where the roof was falling in and the walls were molding.

Well, I’m not in hell, like Lila said I’d be. And I don’t see no angels, so I must be here on Earth still. What the hell do I do now?
He walked out onto the ward and stood as people ran right through him.

Okay, that mystery is solved. I’m invisible and not solid. He waved his arms around and started singing “Get Your Motor Running” at the top of his lungs. No one held their ears or told him to be quiet. So they didn’t hear him either. He saw a chocolate cupcake on the counter with a bite out of it. He figured at this point that undead people who couldn’t get attention couldn’t be choosy, so to further the experiment, he went to lick the frosting off. His tongue went through it without any frosting sticking. The cupcake looked the same as it had. Oh, crap. I was afraid of that. Maybe I really am in hell.

He confirmed his suspicions by walking up to a pretty medic and grabbing her boobs. His hands went through her shirt and she ignored him and kept filling out paperwork. Yup. In hell. What now?

Dead people were supposed to take stock of their lives at some point, so he meandered back into the room with his body, stared at it and waited for some revelation. None came. So he wandered through a few other rooms. People sometimes had revelations in hospitals, didn’t they, on the brink?

In one room, a car accident victim surrounded by his family talked about suing the teenager who had been slammed into his car. She was somewhere in the hospital too. The driver who’d caused the wreck had run. But he blustered along to his relatives and the lawyer on the phone about the girl. So what if she wasn’t the initial driver, her car should have been farther from his, so she was partly responsible, right? And those bills weren’t going to pay themselves.
God, was I that much of an asshole when I was in an accident ten years ago? His spirit sunk a little as he wondered again if this really was hell, and these were the damned souls. But the nurses and doctors still seemed nice, and the young women as pretty as always.

In another room, a middle-aged woman yelled at her son over the phone to stop being useless, and then moaned about her aches, and demanded more pain medication. Then she resumed her tirade over the phone. “Honest to Christ, James! I let you live in my house after school, for five more years, and this is how you act toward me? Ungrateful piece of garbage! I should have known that all you want is my social security check and my pain pills!” A muffled voice issued from the cell, and she yelled right over it, “That’s not the point! I couldn’t work because of the pain, but I still get your father’s check, and rightfully so! That bastard never treated me like anything but a whore. So I worked for that money, and you’re not getting it!”

Jerrod tiptoed from the room. No one had heard him so far, but just in case she was special, he sure didn’t want to start with that one. He wondered what God, if He/She/It existed could be trying to show him, other than the recollection that people were total snaky bastards, at least when the outside world wasn’t looking.

In the next room was a young woman. The doctor had just left. She started crying and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. He bent close and looked at her chart. Stage 4 breast cancer. After a brief flash in his mind of the ‘Save the Tatas’ bumper stickers he’d always admired, he stood back up and saw the tears streaming down her face. She sighed, and he wished for a second that he could slip into people’s minds. Maybe he could with practice, just like on Ghost. He screwed up his ghost face in concentration, but all it did was make him feel like he had to poop, which was strange because he had no colon. His own experience with cancer had shown him that at this stage, excising her tatas hadn’t saved her. Nothing would. He sat by her bed for a little while as she cried, and wondered what he could do to get through to her. At least this was something he knew a little about.

“It’ll be okay, girl, uh, Gia.” That was her name from the chart. “It really will. Dying wasn’t so bad. In fact, I feel great! No pain. Now I just have to figure out what to do next. So if you don’t mind, I’ll sit here with you for a spell. I don’t have anywhere else to go. And maybe you could talk to me. I’m listening…If you want to do it naked, that’s fine with me too.”

She didn’t hear him, but she sighed and wiped her face, and she looked toward him. Her tears dried up and she looked a little better. “That’s my girl. It’ll be okay.” He rested his hand on where hers appeared to be. His fingers went through hers, but he left them there anyway, half in and half out of her palm. She laid back on the pillow and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, she was asleep, and her creased face smoothed. He stood still for a long time.

***

In the morning, she stirred, and he moved. He realized he had been sitting there all night, motionless. And he wasn’t even cramped. At some point, his thoughts had wandered. They were a jumble of memories from as early as five years old to now. But everything seemed clearer than it ever had in life. Yesterday, he’d had trouble remembering what he’d eaten for breakfast. Maybe because it was always accompanied by jello and mush for that last stretch until the end. Not much to remember there. But now he could remember each grain in the mush, and each flop and wobble of the jello body on the spoon, as though he were seeing it now.

He drew his attention back to more enticing pastures, as he watched the still-attractive young bald woman reach across her bed to the nighttable for her phone. It was one of them new-fangled smartyphones. She tapped it into life but didn’t talk on it. Instead a screen popped up with a keyboard that she typed on. It was a memo. The heading was Bucket List.
She began typing bullet points of the things she wanted to do before the end, under the heading: Hate Disney, Kennedy space center instead, see the shuttle launch, eat ossobucco in Little Italy, New York, want to have sex with Egyptian guy from The Mummy, want to eat a new flavor of ice cream every day, want to see brother’s new baby, and say goodbye, want to ride a Ducati motorcycle down the Autobahn, want to do a striptease at a club and have all the guys want to put money in my g-string…
The list went on, and if he hadn’t already felt bonded to this young woman through her similar ailment, he sure did now.

“Ossobucco, oh Honey, if I were alive, I’d take you myself. That and the striptease, I’d love to help you with. If you change the Ducati to a Harley, you’d have a deal on that one too. A Bucket List. Wish I’d made one of those sooner,” he said to the air.

“You still can. Don’t you have somewhere to be? Family you can haunt?”

Jerrod leaped and turned around. There was a bald man around his age, with rheumy blue eyes, standing in the doorway.
“Who are you, and where did you come from?”

“I’m Daddy. Can’t you see the family resemblance?” The man rubbed at his bald head and glared at Jerrod. “Stop staring at my daughter like that or I’ll send you out the window. I can touch you, you know.”

Jerrod swallowed on an absence of spit. “How can you see me?”

“Because I’m a ghost, you dumb redneck. Just like you.”

“But I didn’t see you earlier.”

“This is a hospital. Did you think you’d be the only ghost around?”

“I didn’t see anyone else.”

“That’s because you were stuck in Bitch One and Bastard Two’s rooms, watching them make everyone else’s lives miserable. Fortunately for us, they aren’t likely to cross over any time soon…unless someone murders them.”

“I was only in there a few minutes.”

“No. Go look for your body if you don’t believe me.”

He ran down the hall, and this time he noticed other spirits everywhere. Some of them were milling around aimlessly, others followed people around, still others hovered over people in the beds. Along the ceiling of the hall near his room, he noticed darkness in one of the corners. It was not black, but gray. It was so gray and devoid of any color that the air seemed to be sucked into it. He caught the briefest glimpse of eyes from the center. They blinked, and the fog around the entity began seeping through the air toward the people going in and out of the double doors. As they passed through the fog, the color drained from their cheeks and eyes and a bewildered expression crept across their faces. Then they shook it off and kept moving.
He ran past the gray octopus ghost, wondering what it was. As he passed, a freezing chill gripped him, and the milky eyes latched onto him. He felt numbness spread through him, and the gray eyes began dissolving his memories. He broke away with a jolt, and then ducked into his room and prayed it hadn’t followed him.

Then he noticed that the place he was now wasn’t his room anymore. There was a young gay man and his partner whispering to each other. The chart indicated that they’d occupied the room for a week.

He sucked in air that didn’t exist, held his breath and looked out the door. The octopus was still there. And there was no way back to Gia’s room except past it. So he kept his cheeks inflated and his head turned away as he ran past it again. When he had been a kid, he remembered hiding under the covers, convinced that the creeping fingers under the bed couldn’t grab his feet if he was all covered up. And if he couldn’t see them either, he’d be even more invisible. His no-lookey trick seemed to have worked and he burst in on Gia and her dad. Gia was typing away on her text thing. Her dad looked up.

“Well?”

Jerrod shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“You were in here a while.” He regarded Jerrod intently. “I didn’t thank you for what you did for Gia the other night by the way. Just stop looking at her like she’s a stripper.”

“But that’s on her bucket list.”

“I don’t care, I’m her father, and you’re my age.”

“How long was I remembering, sitting here?”

“A week or so, give or take. I see you ran into the Grays. You look a little pale around the gills.”

“There are more of them? What the devil was that? Was there an octopus in the hospital?”

“It was once a person.”

“What happened?”

“It got lost. Half the buggers you see around here are headed that way.”

“What do you mean lost?”

“They never figure out what to do with themselves. I’m here for Gia. Folks who have families have it easier sometimes. They wander away and find them. We can follow them around forever, helps us stay together.”

“How long have you been following them?”

“For them, it’ll be nine years next week. Where’s your family? By the way?”

“I’d chased a lot of them off, I guess. My son came to see me, but not my sister. Or my ex-wife. My parents were dead a long time ago across the country, and I have no idea where they are now.”

“Well, maybe you better get moving on your own bucket list. Don’t you think?”

“I doubt they’ll be interested in having me around. They didn’t even stay to see me gone. They checked in, and then went back to their lives.” He slumped down against the wall, realizing how much that hurt. Losing his body didn’t. It was that no one he cared about had noticed.

The other old geezer came and sat next to him in silence for a few minutes. “Tell you what. If you behave yourself, you can stay here with us until my daughter joins us. In the meantime, you figure out what you’re going to do next.”

Jerrod nodded. “Thanks. How about I help her with her wishes?”

“The ones without sex.”

“Of course. What about the ones with food? And the space shuttle launch?”

“If you can find a way to arrange that, I’ll give you a kiss myself. I think a motorbike ride might be a tad more realistic if it were around here. The Autobahn might as well be outer space.”

“Well, sir, you’ve got a deal. I don’t know how to arrange it, but it seems like a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s shouldn’t be out of reach.”

***

Gia shifted in her sleep with her laptop on her legs. Her blog page was still up. The two ghosts peered over her shoulder at the text.

“So here I am. This is the end of the road. I guess I was an optimist, and I really thought that everything would work out if I just hung in there. Well, I’m probably radioactive enough to power a nuclear plant for a year. A head of hair, no tits, and lots of chemicals later, and the cancer won. I wish I could be more cheerful, but at this point, what difference does it make? As you know, my boyfriend ditched me last year because the process was too hard for him, and I’m done making excuses for him, and done taking crap.

On the up side, I guess I can eat anything I want now without worrying about getting fat. So the first thing on my list is ice cream, every flavor, pints and pints. I want to be Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, without drowning myself prematurely in a sea of chocolate syrup, of course. And then, before I get too huge to fit on a bike, I want to ride a racing motorbike, preferably a Ducati. I suppose going to Germany to ride it, is out. But maybe old Route 66 will do. Cuz who cares about speeding tickets, woohoooo! Suck my road dust, coppers! Maybe I can ride it right into Little Italy and get a nice Italian dinner.

Also before I get too huge, I’d like to screw the mummy guy from The Mummy, if you’re listening Mr. Actor out there. Free sex from a still reasonably attractive girl in a punk-rock, shaved-head kind of way. Free sex and no strings attached, but you’re not getting my X-Box in my will, so don’t even think about it. Finally…I’d like to watch the shuttle launch, so I can imagine myself on it. I mean right there.

When I was a little girl, I dreamed every night of looking back at the Earth from orbit, and seeing how little we were and how big the galaxy was beyond that when I turned the other direction, away from Earth. Knowing everything is so vast, it kind of helps, you know? Sometimes, being insignificant next to a freakin star is kind of comforting. Makes me think that all those atoms and quarks and bosons and whatever else they’ve named, that they are alive somehow, and that we all just get recycled. Maybe next time, I’ll be a star, literally. That’d be cool.

Anyway, that’s how I want to say goodbye. I’ll probably only get to do all those things in my head, except for the ice cream. A trip to King Soopers isn’t really a tall order for my mom. But, maybe if I aim hard enough with my thoughts, after the last blog you hear from me, you’ll hear about a new star discovered somewhere in a nearby galaxy. That’ll be me. Signing off for now, Gia.”

Jerrod wanted to cry, reading her blog. “I like this kid, Pops. She’s a smart cookie. What is your name anyway?”

“Mick Slater. Yeah, my girl was always special. If this hadn’t happened, maybe she would have made it to space. She was planning on joining the Air Force, and she was going to go for engineering or physics once she got her GI bill. My wife can get her the ice cream, and the Italian food. But if it were my last act as her Dad, I’d get her that view of the shuttle, or space.”

“I’ll do whatever I can think of. Her list is mine.” Jerrod looked at Gia, asleep, and decided that if he had to hunt down the ghost of Neil Armstrong to help, he would.

***

An hour later, neither of the men had any idea how to put Gia close to space. And hunting down Neil Armstrong’s ghost didn’t seem any more likely. Jerrod wandered out to the nurse’s station to try for food again, or make himself heard, while Mick stayed with his ailing daughter.

There were more sweets behind the counter, crème rolls this time. He put his fingers right through the sticky glazed brown frosting. He hung his head and concentrated on the taste of the crème and chocolate glaze on his fingers, as it melted with his touch. When he looked up, his hand was right through the roll and part of the counter.

I’m not going to be outsmarted by a bunch of Ho-hos! He stared at one of the nurses as she picked up a roll and took a bite. He thought about being in her mouth and tongue, and tasting the sweet that way. He didn’t get a rush of white creamy sugar, from her taste buds. He didn’t see from her eyes, or find himself in her head. But he felt an echo of flaky, waxy chocolate and smooth crisco cream, as the taste faded in the back of his mouth.

As with Peeps, he realized that they didn’t taste as good as he remembered from life, but he stood still in shock as it sunk in that he had taken something, some experience. Maybe he couldn’t communicate to the living yet, but he could get something from them. And that meant that he was half-way there. What if that bridge could go both ways? What if just as he could taste the ho-hos a nurse ate, a ghost could share an experience too? But if they couldn’t actually taste anything except through the living, how would that work? Square one.

Then as she devoured another ho-ho, and he tasted it, the memories of his childhood sugar treats came back to him, the marshmallow fluff, the pixie stix, the spun sugar Easter eggs, all the things that he thought tasted great at five years old, or seven or ten, but the vivid memories betrayed his fondness for them now. They hadn’t been so great, just like the ho-hos Nurse Pleasantly Plump was eating now.

When he was halfway back to Gia’s room, the idea struck him as he sifted through memories trying to find a one of good Halloween candy. Ghosts had memories. Hell, that’s probably all they were, strung together with a personality and old habits. That was what he had to share. Well, not him, he didn’t have any memories that a young woman like Gia would be interested in, but maybe someone else did.

He blazed into the room to find Mick crouched by Gia’s bedside, a frown marring his features, matching the one on hers. She was repeatedly pushing the pain medication button. Apparently, it wasn’t doing much good anymore.

“I hate this. I hate seeing her like this. I’d love to talk to her again, but I don’t want her to come over like this. I’d rather see her get married, give me some grandkids I can spook. Join the military and go into space. Anything but this. Everyone says you should never survive your kids, but I didn’t and I still have to watch her go like this.”

Suddenly, the loneliness of the Grays and the lost looks of some of the other ghosts around here didn’t seem like much of a mystery. And even the ones who had families didn’t always want to hang around them, like him, so they hung around where they died instead. Jerrod pictured what kind of ghost the cranky abusive woman from the other room would make someday. He felt sorry for her son. And he recalled suddenly, that there had been no other ghosts in that room. No one wanted to be around her, alive or dead.

He continued, putting the revelation away for later. “I found something. I tasted ho-hos when I pictured myself in the nurse’s mouth. It wasn’t like possession. It was just kind of vicarious. I wonder if it would work in reverse? If we could picture something and send those thoughts or tastes or whatever.”

“Yes.” Mick let go of Gia’s hand. “I do that sometimes with Gia. When the pain is really bad, when she’s crying. I sometimes put thoughts in her mind of our fishing trip when she was eight. She loved fishing. Never caught anything but boots, weeds and other fishing lines, but she’d get so excited when they nibbled. That was one of the happiest times I remember.”

Jerrod’s jaw dropped, and since he was a ghost, might have dropped through the floor if someone had been watching. “You knew about this?” His voice was incredulous. “And you didn’t say anything? If you already had the manual, why didn’t you share that with me before I went out again and started trying to lick the nurse’s food?”

Mick’s face sagged, and Jerrod noticed the strain, how drawn and faded the man’s face seemed. He was exhausted. “I didn’t think of it. I’ve been a little busy.”

Jerrod shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. You’re right. Well, what now? She wants to see a shuttle launch. I never saw one, except on television. You?”

He shook his head. “I’ve never been much of an advertiser, but maybe it’s time we start recruiting help. The odds are against us that someone’s been to Kennedy, but many heads are better than two.”

***

“You’re out of luck.” A droopy-jowled ghost named Ted muttered as he looked out Gia’s room at the far corridor, where a gray hung from the ceiling, perched in a corner like a great transparent spider. “Old Kaleb saw a launch once, but he’s nearly a goner. He’s more like one of them now.” He nodded toward the Gray. He used to be pretty well-off, traveled everywhere. Took the wife and kids on vacation all the time. Lost a bunch of investments in the crash after 911. He couldn’t take living like a normal person and working for a living, so he offed himself. He kind of screwed it up, so it took him a while to cross over here. His wife and kids visited, until he died, but he never recovered after crossing. He’s always been a little…off.”

Mick stared out the door at the Gray. “Where is he?”

“In the basement, the morque, with the other weird ones. There’s a lot of Grays down there. Nests of them.”

“I don’t care. I’ll go talk to him.” Mick’s eyes burned and his face grew brighter.

“I ain’t coming with you, not past those.” Ted backed down the hall away from the Gray-haunted corridor.

“I’ll go with you.” Jerrod said quietly.

“Who’ll stay here for Gia?”

“She’s not going anywhere right now. Hey Ted?” Jerrod chased the man before he disappeared down another hall. “Be a man right now. At least stay and watch the girl.”

Ted looked uncertain and then nodded and cautiously followed Jerrod back to Gia’s room. He took up a post by her bed. “Okay. I’ll secure this area then.”

“Brave soldier.” Mick replied drily.

“Thank you.” Jerrod glared at Mick. “He’s here, so let’s go.”

***

Ted was right about the nesting Grays. After they scooted past the one in the corridor, and edged past three more on the way down, by the ICU, they arrived at the morgue. It was a dim cold unpleasant place, and there were a hell of a lot of unhappy ghosts. The temperature was below what it should have been, even aside from the refrigeration. Grays lined every corner of the rooms, and hunkered along the ceilings of the hallways, watching and stewing in whatever strange thoughts crossed their minds. Their dull white eyes sought Jerrod’s attention, pulled at him, but he steeled himself from looking at them.
The pathologist bustled about, bopping and dancing to a tune he was playing on Pandora radio. The sound seemed to fall muffled into a well, muted by the soft filaments surrounding the Grays. Ghosts that appeared halfway-Gray hunched along the floors, ignored by the pathologist. Jerrod stared at him in wonder. He seemed unaffected by any of it. But he also seemed unaffected by the bodies he autopsied. He was lost in his own thoughts as he measured and peered at organs, engrossed in his work and the music.

“How do we find this guy? I don’t know what he looks like, aside from the description Ted gave, which was kind of vague. He said he won’t even look like that anymore.” Jerrod ventured.

Mick looked nervously around the main examining room. “I don’t like these odds. We don’t even know if he’s here. Just Ted’s assumption. But Gia’s running out of time. Ask and ye shall receive.” He cupped his hands, and spoke into the room. “Is Kaleb here? Kaleb, any of you Kaleb? We need your help.”

Some of the ghosts ignored him, some of them watched with hollow eyes in almost transparent faces. Some had filamentous material oozing out of their orifices, and they scuttled toward the two men on limbs that had become gaunt and spindly. One reached out toward Jerrod’s foot. He drew it back in alarm before the creature could touch him. “This is nuts. What was I thinking? How are we even going to communicate with these people…or whatever they are?”

The creature that had reached out to him tried again, and Jerrod jumped. It looked at him with its hideously deformed visage. Jerrod could feel the emptiness in its eyes, and he avoided looking, but it scuttled after him. It made a noise when he retreated. It was a groan. He looked. For the moment, its eyes were no longer empty. Its face was intent. It had been trying to get his attention. And Jerrod noticed that it was a he, or had been. The creature’s cloudy eyes were full of floaters and film, but Jerrod could see the man’s former humanity, and that he was struggling for another moment to maintain it. He and Mick looked at each other.

“Are you Kaleb?” Jerrod avoided the eyes still. But the creature shook his head, and extended one of his arms toward the dark right corner behind the examining table. Then his eyes went blank again and he crept toward Jerrod in a way completely unlike his earlier purposeful communication.

Jerrod dodged the reaching limbs, and went to the other side of the table where Kaleb was supposed to be, the last place in the gloom he wanted to be. It seemed backwards. He was a ghost. Weren’t people supposed to be scared of ghosts, instead of him being afraid. But he was. Terrified.

He could feel Mick next to him, but neither of them took their eyes off of the mass of fibers floating in the corner like a cobweb wafting underwater in the deep ocean. Within the half-cocoon, a spindly insubstantial body rested. The eyes that peered out at them were almost devoid of humanity.

“Oh, you have to be kidding.”

“I’ll talk to it. She’s my daughter.”

“Talk to what? There’s nothing there that can help us, I don’t think. It can’t even remember being human…if that’s even Kaleb. I’m not sure what you’re going to get out of that, except being turned into something from the phantom version of War of the Worlds. I’m sorry.”

Mick turned to Jerrod as the half-Gray phantasms scuttled and bumped around them and crab-clustered in the corners. His haggard eyes were tormented, not the same eyes as the seasoned spirit who had calmly introduced him to the weird world of afterlife, earlier in Gia’s room. “She’s my kid! I don’t care how this ends. I told her when she was a little girl, on those fishing trips, that I’d bring her the moon if I could. Well, I’m going to do just that.”

“But she’ll be able to talk to you soon.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Jerrod knew it had been the wrong thing to say. Apparently being a ghost didn’t improve social skill.

“Then it’ll be too late. I’ll still have failed her.”

“But if you disappear here, then she’ll lose you all over again!” Jerrod almost yelled. His words fell into a room that despite the loud rockabilly music, seemed too quiet, listening.

“If that happens, take care of her for me, okay?”

“Stop being a stubborn jackass!”

“Promise me.”

Mick approached the creature that had been Kaleb. He stared into the depth of the gray mass, into the milky eyes. Their look sucked the remaining color from Mick’s appearance. He shivered and started talking to it. “Kaleb, I need your help. I need you to remember. I need a memory from you, you selfish bastard. Snap out of it and do something for someone else for a change!” As he spoke, his color drained and he sank to the ground, weak. His phantom limbs thinned until they were skeletal. But he kept talking. “ I heard about you, you chicken-shit asshole. You couldn’t take living like the rest of us, so you abandoned your wife and kid. Well here’s your chance to make good. You’re going to help my kid!”

The Kaleb creature had been staring at him. The cataract lenses bore into him, sucking him into the grayness like an insect being wrapped in sheets of web. But as Mick yelled at him, the milky eyes unfocused and closed and then opened, roaming the room. They blinked as though trying to clear fog from the creature’s thoughts. Then the eyes started to clear slightly. They were the dull eyes of a drunkard, but they were no longer whitish-gray. They were muddy brown, and belonged to an addled man, twenty years older that he should have been. Only the eyes had changed.

Mick scrambled back and closed his eyes and kept hollering at the creature. “This is your chance to be something useful. You lost a bunch of money, who cares! You had a family! I got a daughter. She needs to see something good before she crosses over to here, or to wherever she’s going. She needs to see the space shuttle. Like you did. Remember? You were happy. Remember that, the shuttle? You couldn’t just have bought that!” He rasped from the ground.

“Hey Kaleb,” Jerrod chimed in. “The shuttle launch! It must have been amazing! You were one of the only people in the world ever got to see one of those.” Jerrod could feel the soft nudges of the other ghosts against him as they began to crowd in on him. He closed his eyes, refusing to leave.

And suddenly the air vibrated with energy from great fires coming from the tail of the rocket in front of them. The huge metal tube rose into the sky, a few fragile humans invisible in its tin can hull. He saw the deep blue of the sky and knew that beyond it was the velvet black of the abyss and the fires of the myriad distant stars. The rocket would stretch toward them until the people inside could see them unobscured by oxygen.

Jerrod opened his eyes in shock and a strange vision faced him for a few seconds, where the Kaleb creature had been. It was a ragged man’s face formed roughly from the lumpy whitish substance of the spidery mass. But his eyes were fully human. He gazed at Jerrod and Mick, nodded once slowly and then his eyes closed.

Jerrod didn’t wait to see what would happen next, he grabbed at Mick with both hands. It was like trying to haul a bag of loose cement powder. Mick’s form ran around his fingers like quicksand. But slowly Mick rose from the mire of the surrounding ghosts, and fled for the exit with Jerrod at his rear.

***

Gia’s face was sallow and drained as she lay on her back. Her arms were too weak to hold her smartphone anymore and but she had it by her. The annoying music of Angry Birds penetrated the room as she moved her fingers against the screen and smiled. Hers was truly an alien generation, Jerrod thought as he watched the dying young woman. Her mother hovered at the foot of her bed to make room for her friends who helped her to finish her internet game. Several pints of specialty ice cream were scattered about with chunks scooped out into a bowl in front of her. Dabs of ice cream decorated her pale dry lips. She licked them with a true beaming grin that for a few seconds took years away from her face, so she might have been sixteen again. Next to her bed, on the other side of her, a life-sized cardboard stand-up of the actor in The Mummy glared down at her with his sultry eyes. Someone had inked a speech bubble next to his mouth, “I must have you Gia, my Anaksunamun!”

“Thanks, guys! You’re all dorks.” She snickered until she coughed, and then rolled over and looked at the cut-out. And her friends grinned back at her and squeezed her hands, maintaining their smiles until her eyes slowly closed in sleep. Then their mirth faded. They looked at each other and filed out while she slept.

Mick sagged by the side of the bed, still recovering, as Jerrod sat by him. He put his hand on Mick’s hand, with the strange sensation of resistant magnets. Mick put his hand on Gia’s face. His thin fingers floated through her. She didn’t move or give any indication that she knew the men were there. The two men closed their eyes and pulled up the memory of the rocket shooting into the intense blue sky, the heat from the blast even from a mile in the distance, the long silver gleam with a fiery tail as the rocket shot toward the stars. As they imagined sending the memory into Gia’s head, her heartbeat fluttered and the brain waves on the monitor rose in jagged wild peaks, and she smiled.

***

Jerrod stared at the young man in front of him as he popped open another beer and chugged it and then put it on the pyramid. A dirty coverall smeared with a day’s worth of grease from cars and the logo for Rick’s Auto on the breast, was strung from a kitchenette stool of the tiny apartment. Sitting on the table underneath the beer can pyramid and underneath a bag of weed, was a textbook about how to score well on the SATs. The spine hadn’t been cracked. Scattered around the room, intermixed with posters of girls on shiny cars, were images of the ocean, more specifically of life in the ocean, shots the young man sitting in front of the Playstation, had taken with an underwater camera and scuba gear that sat packed in the back of the crowded closet. There were scattered application packets from a couple universities lying around, brochures for marine biology programs. Mick and Gia gazed around them at the mess. Gia grinned and reached for the bag of weed under her father’s glare. Then Mick’s face shifted to amusement as her fingers went right through it, and he just stood and enjoyed her frown. “Oh, have fun with that, Sweetie.”

“I’m dead, give me a break! It’s not like I’m breaking any laws! You gotta be shitting me!”

Mick just smiled.

Jerrod looked into the face of his son engrossed in the video game as he ignored the practice tests that were soaking up beer on the table.

“Hi, Sam. Get off your sorry ass, and pick up that study book.”

Sam looked around the room and then scratched his head, a puzzled look on his face.

End Story

Ah, parenting. Maybe it never gets simpler, even after we die…but afterlife would never be boring. I’ve always been fascinated with notions of afterlife, different cultural ideas about what happens when we go into the real Final Frontier.What kind of beliefs were people raised with, and what do they believe now? What are some of your ideas about death? Share in comments, if you like. I always like hearing about different perspectives.

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